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China Has A Deadly Missile Launcher Everyone Is Ignoring

March 11, 2019

The wheeled HJ-10 at an Iraqi arms show in 2018. Via IQDEX.

Among the more impressive displays at last month’s IDEX 2019 in Abu Dhabi, whose reputation as the Middle East’s largest arms show is well-deserved, was an inert missile-carrying tank destroyer from Poly Defence. To use the term “tank destroyer” may be quaint and ill-fitting, but the eight missiles carried on the back of an export-ready VN1 8×8 APC suggests the vehicle is best used for hunting enemy armor. Each of the missiles are non-line of sight (NLOS) HJ-10’s, the longest ranged among the Red Arrow family. But despite a significant Chinese presence at IDEX 2019 news of a sale for this vehicle never materialized.

The Chinese PLA does operate an unspecified number of AFT-10’s–the official designation for its tracked missile-carrying tank destroyers. These employ the same launchers on the hull of the ZBD-series IFV. But what the PLA uses is often different from what state-owned military-industrial companies are allowed to export. The HJ-10 on an 8×8 APC may appear novel, but it’s just another take on a familiar approach to cost-effective wheeled anti-tank vehicles. Its closest analogues in the West are the VAB 4×4 armored car carrying four HOT missiles or the Stryker APC equipped with TOW missiles.

The HJ-10 is a fire-and-forget missile suspected of having a range close to (or exceeding) 10 kilometers, making it the deadliest ground-based precision weapon in the PLA’s arsenal. The HJ-10 shouldn’t be confused with its siblings in the Red Arrow lineage. The HJ-8 is a wire-guided anti-tank missile from the 1980s somewhat based on the French MILAN while the larger HJ-9 is comparable to the US TOW. The succeeding additions to the HJ-series of missiles have remarkable characteristics. With the HJ-10 being the largest and meant to be carried by vehicles, the HJ-11 is a portable infantry ATGM that’s operated like the Russian Kornet and the HJ-12 is a shoulder-fired top attack missile like the Javelin or the Spike-MR. All these missiles, by the way, are approved for export.

Poly Defence, the state-owned conglomerate that manufactures the HJ-10 on a wheeled platform, has shopped its missile launcher around the world for the past three years at least. Yet until now the vehicle has elicited neither curiosity nor willing customers, which is surprising given the boost an HJ-10 affords for ground forces. When participating in combined operations to recapture an urban theater, for example, the HJ-10 can serve as both a surveillance asset and an alternative to close air support. A target tracking gimbal on a retractable mast, located between the missile cells, allows its operators to find and lock several locations. The missiles can then be programmed to neutralize the hostiles in each.

In a set piece battle, the HJ-10 on a wheeled platform is a welcome addition to mechanized units, with enemy armor and low-flying aircraft such as drones among its potential targets. It doesn’t hurt that the VN1, which is based on the PLA’s superb ZBL-09 8×8 APC, stands out as one of the best wheeled troop carriers made by an Asian country. Yet the sum of these traits have kept the HJ-10’s current iteration neglected no matter the strenuous efforts by Poly Defence to find a market..somewhere. Another noteworthy Chinese-made vehicle at IDEX 2019 was a mere tabletop scale model of a “VT4” that looked like a heavy APC encased in reactive armor. The mysterious VT4, whose designation is shared with a Chinese main battle tank, had a turret armed with a 100mm gun and a coaxial 30mm cannon. Behind the vehicle, however, flanking the hydraulic ramp for the troop compartment were two remote controlled 12.7mm machine guns.

Once again, this Chinese war machine drew scant attention and no serious inquiries.

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